Travel Health: That Water on the Plane
A few days after I returned from South Africa, I got sick -- really sick. At first I wondered if I was suffering from drinking bad water, from, say, the ice cubes at that cute cafÃ© in Jo'burg. But that's unlikely: Unlike many African countries, South Africa's drinking water is generally safe, especially in the cities. When I asked my friend who I'd been visiting if she was feeling at all sick, she said she wasn't, and suggested I'd caught some kind of bug on the airplane.
Initially, I blew that idea off -- what could I possibly catch on an airplane, besides a cold? -- but when I thought about it some more, it dawned on me: Maybe it was the water.
When I fly, I chug water -- partly to stave off the jet lag, partly so I can drink anti-germ potions like Airborne to keep colds at bay -- and if I don't bring a large enough water bottle to fill up at a water fountain once I get through security, I end up chugging those tiny water bottles they offer onboard. ("Could I have some water, please?" Flight attendant hands me a bottle. "Um, could I have four more?")
On my flight to Jo'burg from Dulles, I drank so many mini bottles of water that all I needed was a shopping cart and a recycling center and I'd make a dollar in Maine.
On the way back, though, I was sitting in the window seat, so I had to keep asking for water instead of going to the galley and grabbing a handful myself. So what did I do, in my infinite wisdom? Head to the loo and fill up the liter-size bottle I'd already drained. From the tap. Which, if I'm remembering correctly, was festooned with a sign showing a person drinking from a cup, with a big red X across it.
Lying in bed, clutching my stomach, I remembered that desperate bottle-filling episode, and I started wondering whether my friend was right about the plane... and if that picture by the sink means "do not drink this water or you will die."
So I wrote to South African Airlines, and the kind person who wrote back explained, in detail, where that tap water comes from. It turns out that the tap water is ok to drink; they have that sign by the tap because they just want people to drink bottled water so that the water they have onboard can be used for tea, coffee and flushing the toilets. SAA fills its planes with water from the municipal water supply in Johannesburg (serviced by Rand Water), but because the planes can only carry a finite amount, and the flights are so long, there's only so much water to go around.
Long story short: It wasn't the water on the plane, and it probably wasn't the tap water in South Africa at all. How I got sick is still anyone's guess, but I'll just chalk it up to a small price to pay for an amazing vacation.
Has anyone else ever gotten sick after returning from a trip abroad, without having any problems while traveling? Or have you ever gotten sick and figured out the source?
By Christina Talcott |
February 20, 2008; 12:41 PM ET
Tales from the Road
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